A $50,000 contribution to Mayor Rick Kriseman’s releection campaign from the Tampa Bay Rays is the latest monster donation in a mayoral race that long ago pierced stratospheric heights in spending, obliterating previous records for Sunshine City elections by an exponential amount.
The Rays, both as a team and through individual donations by owner Stu Sternberg and executives, have donated at least $81,500 to Kriseman. Their latest, and largest, contribution on Sept. 22 went to Kriseman’s Sunrise political action committee.
Both former mayor Rick Baker and Kriseman have raised nearly $2.5 million in their quest for the right to preside over Florida’s fifth largest city for four years.
And most observers expect the total cash haul to finish well north of $3 million by the Nov. 7 election.
Kriseman traveled to Puerto Rico Wednesday with Rays officials on a relief mission. But both the mayor and the team had prepared statements about the cash infusion at the ready.
Kriseman said he was grateful for the team’s support, calling them a “great partner.”
“We are a better city for having them. The work they do to uplift our city makes the sun shine a little brighter on St. Petersburg,” Kriseman’s statement read.
Rays President Brian Auld praised Kriseman’s “bold leadership,” in his statement.
“We strongly support his commitment to inclusion and diversity, his work on poverty reduction, and his emphasis on regional cooperation. The City is flourishing, and Mayor Kriseman is the right leader for continued growth and prosperity,” Auld wrote.
Baker released a statement criticizing Kriseman’s advocacy of a three-year agreement to allow the Rays to explore stadium options outside the city. That January 2016 agreement was approved by City Council. Baker’s statement appears to suggest a linkage between the deal and the Rays’ financial support of the mayor’s campaign.
“Rick Kriseman’s giveaway of the Rays’ contract was a bad deal for the city period. I’ll let other draw their own conclusions from the campaign contributions that followed,” Baker said.
Last month, Baker’s PAC, Seamless Florida, received a $50,000 donation from Conservative Principles for Florida, a Coral Gables -based PAC.
Overall, Baker has raised more than $1.4 million through individual contributions and donations to his Seamless Florida PAC. Kriseman has raised nearly $1.1 million in individual contributions and donations to his Sunrise PAC. Both totals are through the end of September.
Earlier in the campaign, some Kriseman supporters called on Baker to recuse himself from any future negotiations with his current boss, Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards if he were to become mayor. Edwards has donated at least $50,000 to Baker.
Baker said he would not recuse himself from negotiating a possible stadium deal with the Rowdies or possible changes to the Mahaffey Theater contract with Edwards, whose company manages the theater. Baker said the money, and his professional ties to Edwards, wouldn’t compromise his ability to negotiate for the city’s best interests.
City Council member Karl Nurse, who supports Kriseman, was one of the loudest voices calling for Baker to avoid future dealings with Edwards if he won.
On Wednesday, Nurse said he would have to think about asking the mayor to do the same.
Kriseman has nevered work for the Rays, Nurse noted.
But the mayor did champion the deal to let the team look for a new ballpark outside St. Petersburg. The Rays are reportedly close to selecting a site in Tampa.
“It’s not apples to apples,” Nurse said. “It’s still not a great place to be.”
Last week, the City Council passed a controversial ordinance that would limit donations from individuals to a single PAC to $5,000 a year. City attorneys have argued that the ordinance was unconstitutional and will likely prompt expensive lawsuits that could cost the city millions.
Kriseman supported the measure, calling it “righteous.” Baker opposed it and charged Kriseman with hypocrisy for championing reform while raking in cash. The ordinance won’t take effect until January, exempting the current race.
The huge amounts spending in the mayor’s race is precisely why the ordinance was worth the legal risk, Nurse said.
“I think you’re seeing this and the Edwards (donations) and large donations from people who do business with the city. That’s the inherent economic conflict. That citizens indirectly pay when their local campaigns are financed by people who have economic interests in the results,” Nurse said.